I started a research project earlier this week and haven't had a chance to finish it yet, partially because it is a ton of work. However - I am 90% certain of this conclusion despite not chasing down every data point: over the last 24 days, you have witnessed the most prolific 4-game stretch of yardage output in at least 42 seasons, since Bo's takeover as head coach. In fact, if you remove the BGSU game and the 721 yards in that one, I am pretty certain that the first 3 weeks of the season resulted in the most prolific 3 games in the same time span.
We have put up 2,258 yards in 4 games. The next closest 4-game stretch I can identify ended with the Notre Dame beatdown in 2003, when we put up 439 against the Irish to total 2,013 yards over 4 games. That required crossing seasons though to pick up the win over Florida in the 2002 bowl game. Within the same season, the next closest is 1,947, which represented the first 4 games in 2003 and ended with the road loss at Oregon. In short, we have exceeded the previous 4-game maximum by TEN PERCENT, or over 200 yards.
Our season average is over 564 yards/game, with 331 yards rushing and 233 passing. The top 5 most prolific seasons in modern history compare as:
1) 1992 season - 467 yards/game (268 rushing, 198 passing)
2) 2000 season - 446 yards/game (216 rushing, 230 passing)
3) 2003 season - 446 yards/game (175 rushing, 270 passing)
4) 1990 season - 433 yards/game (265 rushing, 168 passing)
5) 1976 season - 430 yards/game (345 rushing, 85 passing)
We are producing 20% more yards/game than the previously best performance in 42 seasons. Current rushing and passing averages would individually be the 2nd best, ever, respectively. The obvious counterpoint is that Big 10 defenses will beat these numbers down. Iowa, Penn State, Wisconsin and Ohio State all have top 20 defenses currently, and all but Wisconsin have played top 20 teams already. However, even a substantial decrease to an average of 418 yards per game over the last 8 games would still MATCH the best performance ever. With not-so-great defenses Indiana (52nd), MSU (51st), Illinois (48th) and Purdue (59th) remaining on the slate, all signs point to possibly the most prolific ground-gaining machine the modern program has ever seen.
Coach Rodriguez's teams own the two best single game yardage outputs in program history, with 727 yards against Delaware State and 721 yards against Bowling Green. In both games, we exceeded 460 yards rushing, which represent the 2 of the 3 biggest rushing performances ever, topped only by the 1970 victory over Iowa (468 yards rushing). Yes, those aren't great opponents, but we have played tomato cans for a long time, with Bo playing Long Beach State at one point (526 yards in that game), and Mo/Lloyd having a much less competitive MAC and Big 10 in the 90's. Some epic performances in modern history:
1) Wisconsin 1988 (W 62-14) - 628 total yards (413 rushing, 215 passing)
2) CMU 2003 (W 45-7) - 615 total yards (342 rushing, 273 passing)
3) Indiana 2000 - 562 yards (282 rushing, 280 passing)
4) Iowa 1970 - 561 yards, (468 rushing, 93 passing)
5) Minnesota 2007 - 561 yards (307 rushing, 254 passing), BTW Henne and Hart sat out that game
In sum, we have the #2 offense in the country and the #1 rusher in the country after 4 games. Our QB leads the Heisman race, and talking heads are questioning where other players in the country might be if only they played for Michigan right now. It seems clear that the dominating offense everyone envisioned under Coach Rodriguez is here after 2 rebuilding years. And that is something to be encouraged about.
It is difficult to see us winning less than 8 games at this point, and I think the excitement and progress the team has already shown easily removes most reasonable uncertainties about RR's tenure into the 2011 season. A 2009-like slide isn't out of the question, and we may lose several games against the tough portion of the schedule, but the odds of RR not coming back given where we are seem very low. Finally, we lose only a few guys off of this year's offense (Schilling, Dorrestein, Webb) in a position group where we are pretty deep. Next year's offense could be even better.
Certainly we need to keep recruiting skilled offensive guys to keep the momentum, but the obvious need is to develop the young defensive guys we already have and find someone (presumably younger or new) that can actually play linebacker. If we can field a middle-of-the-pack Big 10 defense, 2011 could be a special year.
Bring on the Hoosiers!